The week before Thanksgiving, I watched a YouTube video that set my heart aflutter. It was of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra singing White Christmas on a holiday special that aired on TV in 1957. The mid-century modern backdrop for the song was a sunken living room with an open pit fireplace, a heavily tinseled Christmas tree, and both men impeccably dressed in suits. A table festooned with a whimsical candy cane centerpiece, along with an elegant dinner for two set the scene for a classy evening between gentlemen friends. Bing and Frank were granted their wish at the song's end as snow magically began to fall outside the window. They retreated to the table to celebrate as the butler wheeled in a perfectly dressed turkey on a serving cart on cue. The yearning I felt for the invention of time travel was REAL! You can watch the video here, but be prepared to have a bit of a lump-in-the-throat nostalgia. It was at that moment that I decided to go full throttle on a mid-century Christmas this year. Why wait for the invention of time travel when you can create the world you want to live in now?
It All Begins With The Tree
A vintage aluminum Christmas tree is something I always wanted. WHY!? Yes, I realize that many people think aluminum trees are are null and void of any Christmas sentiment, not to mention tacky, but hear me out. Aluminum trees made from 1959 to 1970 in their original boxes are highly prized among MCM collectors, and are becoming scarce with the passage of time. A rare pink aluminum tree sold for $3,000 about three years ago, and prices for aluminum trees selling today are climbing. Silver aluminum trees five feet and above are selling for $450 - $2000, some even higher, depending on the company and condition of the tree. The Evergleam Pom-Pom, seen here, is a big favorite with the branches flared at the end for fuller effect. These trees are a work of art in my eyes, and how they came into fashion sold me completely in wanting one. Here's a little history to add to your design knowledge base, and a good conversation starter for your next Christmas party or holiday gathering.
In the 1960's, the aluminum Christmas tree was all the rage, and keeping up with the Joneses required that you purchase one. They were novel and different, something shiny and modern that spoke of a new era. They came in a variety of colors - pink, green, and teal, seen here, to name a few - and could be mechanized and illuminated to insure your Christmas decor would be the finest on the block. Imagine the effect of a rotating Christmas tree emanating different colors in front of a large picture window! The projected color lights on the tree's reflective surface was disco cool more than a decade before "Saturday Night Fever."
Though there were manufacturers in several parts of the United States, the great portion of commercially-made aluminum trees were created by the Aluminum Specialty Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. When their “Evergleam” line debuted in 1959, many embraced the bright, shining trees as an expression of the new Atomic Age. The trees appealed to a Jetsons-style notion of modern living where life was clean, automated and easy; with an aluminum tree, needles never fell, it could be stored compactly and re-used every year, with none of the fuss of a real tree. Sales for the aluminum tree industry went through the roof at the start of the 1960's, with companies working overtime to keep up with the orders.
The aluminum Christmas tree quickly fell out of favor when the Peanuts Gang came to town, however. That's right. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" aired in 1965 where Charlie Brown rejects an array of gleaming aluminum trees for a forlorn little needle dropping sapling for their school Christmas play. The historical context when "A Charlie Brown Christmas" aired is important to consider: Tens of thousands of Americans were shipped off to fight and die in Vietnam, peaceful civil rights protesters had been brutally clubbed by state troopers on a bridge in Selma, Alabama, and JFK had been assassinated in Dallas just two years earlier. The nation was hungry for reassurance - a return to a nostalgic past that was more honest, simple, and sincere was understandable. It's hard to imagine that a children's television show was directly responsible for the death of a consumer product line, but "A Charlie Brown Christmas" resonated with audiences in a way no other children's programming had before. A cartoon character caused millions of Americans to turn inward and ask themselves what had become of their traditional values. The foil needles of the aluminum Christmas tree suddenly didn't seem to sparkle so brightly. The aluminum tree market collapsed, and in 1970, the Aluminum Specialty Company discontinued its production of Christmas trees. Close to a million were produced, but sadly, most of them ended in trash cans and flea markets.
Now the children of the 60's who grew up with an aluminum tree are seeking them, along with MCM collectors, to reconnect with the past. The same sentimentality that undercut the aluminum tree business in 1966 has resurrected the aluminum tree today. 2020 has been a challenging year; the changes I made with regards to the furniture and decor in our home over the past eleven months was a subconscious effort of wanting to return to a simpler time. My appreciation for MCM design developed as a result. A positive thing that came from this year is that I discovered an appreciation and the importance for nostalgia. I am intent on making this Christmas laced with it every day. So, it starts with the tree. We purchased a seven foot Evergleam Deluxe and a color wheel on Ebay - thank you, Treasurehunterstandm! - that is now a part of our MCM collection. I bet the kids will be fighting to see who gets it when we're gone! Ha! Aluminum trees, by the way, are not easy to decorate! Ornaments need to be light in weight because the branches are delicate, so we also purchased vintage Shiny Brite ornaments which will be arriving this week.
My next blog post will have photo's of the tree, along with other MCM decor ideas to bring that good old nostalgic vibe into your home. I will also be writing about holiday parties of the 1960's and popular food and drinks served during that incredible decade. There is great comfort in returning to the past. The aluminum tree reminds me of my childhood innocence when I believed anything was possible. A man walked on the moon! Anything you dream of and want is possible. Cheers!